Nothing to kid about

A scene from the film; (right) her father carrying Sitara on his shoulders

By now, all of us are familiar with the migrant crisis that rattled the public consciousness during the lockdown. Images of barefoot labourers walking hundreds of kilometres with their families to get back to their villages left a stain on our democracy that still hasn’t been wiped out. But the question is, did we pay enough attention to the trauma that this arduous journey must have caused to the children who were forced to be a part of it? It’s one thing for adults to undertake it. But it’s quite another for a kid to comprehend the gravity of the situation, and understand why they have to travel with hardly any food and water for days on end. That’s why a new short film called Sitara: The Girl in the Pink Frock shifts its lens towards an 11-year-old, explaining her befuddlement at being asked to pack her bags without warning and leave the city one fine morning.

The paper-made sketch of Sitara’s pink frock

The story is conveyed almost entirely through the unique medium of handmade paper puppets, with puppeteer Anurupa Roy fleshing out the characters as drawings and then using a phone camera to depict the movements within a tiny box frame. The idea for the film came through a chance encounter that she had with a child when the national lockdown had just been announced. Roy and some other members of her cooperative housing society had set up a food stall outside their building near the Delhi-UP border, for migrants who had started walking back to their homes in hordes when the news first filtered through. She tells us that she was struck by the pink dress that the child was wearing, which looked like the best outfit in her wardrobe. Roy says, “She was really shy and said no when I asked her if she wanted more food, though she did request for more water. I chatted with her for a bit and after that I kept wondering why she had been wearing her best dress. It was a difficult and strenuous walk, and I couldn’t understand why she would choose that outfit.”

Anurupa Roy
Anurupa Roy

So, Roy narrated the incident to her friend, Aditi Mediratta, a writer for Bollywood films. She asked Mediratta to weave a story with the girl’s narrative as the central thread. The latter thought up a plot where Sitara views this journey as an adventure in which her parents, brother and neighbours embark on a mission to kill a bat that had been causing human deaths. “As a kid, I used to live a lot in my own head. So, I asked myself that if I were a child, what would I have picked up from all the conversations surrounding the pandemic? The concept of an invisible virus wouldn’t have made much sense. But the tangible idea of a bat killing people would have been more relatable,” Mediratta says.

Aditi Mediratta
Aditi Mediratta

And thus was born the heart-wrenching 12-minute tale of an innocent child who is all excited about joining her family in this endeavour to save humanity. The tragedy lies in how her enthusiasm dwindles with time. She wishes for more food. She wishes for more water. But more than anything else, her indomitable spirit wishes to locate that bat so that she can bring this ordeal to an end. In a sense, then, that bat is a metaphor for a vaccine to fight COVID-19, and all of us are Sitaras who are desperate to find one. But, we are adults. We are mostly capable of grappling with the reality of our situation. So, even as all of us wage a collective war against this invisible enemy, spare a thought for the children who are also paying the same price as we are. No one has any real solutions yet. But for kids, it’s first about understanding what the problem is about.

Log on to Anurupa Roy’s YouTube channel

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